I recently learned about an artist who uses unique techniques and processes to create beautiful artworks. Tim Knowles is a UK artist who uses natural phenomenon like wind and terrain to create sketches and media installations.
Myself, I have always been inspired by the idea of contact and touching; touching an item or standing in a place that someone else had touched or stood – I feel like that can give a powerful connection through time and space. It’s why I took the in-progress pieces of my Rainbow Warrior quilt to the Rainbow Warrior memorial in Matauri Bay and her masts in Dargaville. To know that my quilt – inspired by that ship, her crew and what she represents – has actually touched parts of the ship herself, has been out in the sunshine, sea air and
waving grass, makes the quilt all the more special to me. It feels imbued with the spirit of those places.
Largely through my studies at university the idea of agency has really taken hold inside me, as well. In humanities we use “agency” to describe the ability to act (independently), and you could say, to exert power; it’s the opposite of inert passivity. In particular the realisation that human animals are not the only ones who have agency really changed the way I think about many things. Nonhuman animals obviously (to me) have agency; a bird may choose
where to fly, what to eat, when to return home, how to react to situations she encounters. But it was also a realisation to me to think about the agency of other living things on the planet, like trees. A trees responds to the sun, to water and some have even been shown to “communicate” and share information about predators, etc.
The work of Tim Knowles’ that I have read about online really taps into this part of me that is aware of the world outside human control. (This is not to say that we cannot control it – we can and do. But when left alone, many other beings in the world are allowed to exert their own agency). Tim’s past works have included his “Windwalks”, drawings made by attaching a sail/windvane-like apparatus to his head and going for walks through early-morning London directed only by the changing winds and breezes. Afterwards GPS tracking was used to plot these journeys as prints that Colby Chamberlain describes as “a Surrealist experiment in automatic drawing”.
I really like the way Gabrielle Hoad describes Tim’s unique approach to his art
In the past, Tim Knowles has been a hands-off artist, setting in motion unpredictable mark-making processes. He’s allowed everything from helium balloons and trees to postal packages and cars to drawn their own movements: “making the invisible visible” as he puts it. There’s much to be said for John Cage’s view that the world is more fascinating when we let it be itself.
On Tim’s website there are images from many of his exhibitions, all with mysterious and exciting names like “Full Moon Reflections” (photographs of reflections of the full moon on different bodies of non-still water), “Windwalks” (prints delineating wind-directed walks as described above) and “Nightwalks” (photographs taken with a very long exposure as the artist walks away from the camera through the landscape carrying powerful torches which illuminate his path). What amazing ways of encountering the world and, in case of the walks, of portraying an individual’s attempt to literally make one’s way.
I found each of these ideas really exciting but the works which really drew me to Tim as an artist were his Tree Drawings – drawings not of trees, but by trees. In Cabinet magazine, Tim explains his execution of the prints:
I attach artists’ sketching pens to their branches and then place sheets of paper in such a way that the trees’ natural motions—as well as their moments of stillness—are recorded. Like signatures, each drawing reveals something about the different qualities and characteristics of the various trees as they sway in the breeze: the relaxed, fluid line of an oak; the delicate, tentative touch of a larch; a hawthorn’s stiff, slightly neurotic scratches.
I love the appreciation Tim has of the characteristics of each different tree. This appreciation really comes through in how the reality of their unique individuality is present in each artwork. Although Tim Knowles is the artist his role here is as a fascilitator for the expression of the wind and the branches.
I’ve never been to a Tim Knowles exhibition but I’ve seen online that each piece is presented as a “diptych” (a fancy way of saying two pieces of artwork together), the drawing itself together with a photograph of it being created. He even used a video of the work being created in one of his exhibitions, projected onto the wall next to the print itself. There’s a great video from MassArt (Massachusetts College of Art and Design) which has Tim Knowles talking about both the process of creating the Tree Drawings and the method of exhibition – watch it on YouTube. In the same article as above, Tim states
Process is key to my work, so each Tree Drawing is accompanied by a photograph or video documenting the location and manner of its creation.
I really think this is inspired. For me it presents two ways of seeing a single moment in time and forms a connection between different ways of experiencing. The author of a Saatchi Gallery online editorial sees in Tim’s Tree Drawings the accomplishment of a long-held goal in English artistic tradition. Of Tree Drawing – Scots Pine, Buttermere Shore #1 (2005), it notes
Given its Cumbrian context, the unforced lyricism of Knowles’s approach stands in ironic historical juxtaposition to the plein-air labours of English landscape painters, who for centuries have strived to capture the agitation of a swaying tree. Knowles achieves their long-held ambition by the simple fact of enabling the tree to record its own unrest.
The idea of “enabling” a tree is a beautiful one. I really adore the resulting works Tim has created. While these are my favourite of his pieces so far, it is fascinating to read about the ways in which he has created many other works with the use of all sorts of natural and human-made phenomena. I urge you to visit Tim’s site and look through his various artworks. For me the image of a tree drawing on an easel in particular is a very powerful one.
And if I ever get the chance to visit an exhibition of his, I shall jump at it.